Ito Kacho – A Japanese-Korean styled BBQ that promises to salivate

21 01 2013

Having spent a white Christmas and New Year’s in Korea, I must have gone through quite a few BBQ meals but being on a budget, sad to say I didn’t get to have much premium fare this time round and I was craving some good quality wagyu and kurobuta badly (the black pigs in Jeju Island just isn’t the same as the ones from Japan). So the invitation to dine at Ito Kacho, a Japanese-Korean styled restaurant that specializes in BBQ meats, arrived at the perfect moment.

Barely a month old, it seemed that there were already a few who were in the know of this joint when I dined there on a Thursday night, unperturbed by the relatively extravagant fare (they specialize in wagyu after all). I guess Ito Kacho clearly illustrates the distinction between affordability and value, where an average meal costing $100 while unaffordable by normal standards, might still be considered to be of great value given the premium ingredients used. Of course, it’s possible to dine at Ito Kacho whilst on a budget to, if you stick to items such as their Kurobuta Ramen ($15.80++) but if you are planning to go for their signature BBQ, do be prepared to spend more as they offer mainly premium cuts of meat.

They take their meats really seriously at Ito Kacho. Nothing is left to chance and their Wagyu is air-flown in chilled rather than frozen, ensuring that the nice marbling doesn’t get damaged during the thawing process.

I’m not a fan of kimchi so I would personally avoid ordering the Kimchi Moriawase ($9.90++) aka Assorted Kimchi – Chinese cabbage, cucumber, white radish or the Namuru Moriawase ($8.90++) – Cinnamon fern, white radish, spinach, beansprout. The notion of paying for something that is usually given out free at Korean restaurants just doesn’t seem all that appealing.

The Dashimaki Tamago ($6.90++) wasn’t as sweet as how most Japanese joints do it so it’s great for those who love a mild eggy flavour. Personally however, I would rather save the stomach space for the noteworthy BBQ.

From bottom right clockwise: Kimchi Moriawase, Namuru Moriawase, Dashimaki Tamago

Likewise, the Jikasei Potato Salad ($11.80++) or Homemade Potato Salad was nothing to shout about, very much similar to all the other more affordable potato salads available elsewhere.

Here’s where the fun begins. For beef, we sampled the Wagyu Tomobara ($36/$49++ for 80g or 120g) which is the short ribs also known as kalbi (in korean) or karubi (in japanese), the Wagyu Kainomi ($22/$29++ for 80g or 120g) which is the flap or bottom sirloin, and the US Jo-Karubi ($22/$29++ for 80g or 120g), listed in order of decreasing preference. Wasn’t as charmed by the US Jo-Karubi as it was a little too chewy compared to the wagyu.

What’s so different about wagyu from other types of beef you might ask? I guess there’s many answers to this because they are really worlds apart. Some might metaphorically coin wagyu as beef foie gras, supple and delicate because of the substantial amount of fats that interlace between the lighter than usual colour of beef. For “normal” types of beef, you have a choice to cook it rare all the way to well done but the same cannot be said for wagyu. Given the high fat content, the fats start melting really quickly upon cooking and medium rare should be the furthest you should grill it for so as not to lose the luster of the fats. Personally, I guess when I do go for wagyu, I’m looking for the melt-in-your-mouth feel while for “normal” beef, I go for the immense meaty flavour that materializes when you begin to chew on a piece of steak.

From bottom left clockwise: Wagyu Tomobara, US Jo-Karubi, Wagyu Kainomi

It’s always a joy to eat wagyu but thread carefully, as many restaurants are guilty of sullying the name of the almighty wagyu by using a cheaper cut of cross-bred wagyu, which I believe does not offer the same flavour and texture as the pure breed ones from Japan. The commandment in George Orwell’s  Animal Farm stating that “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal” than others holds true for wagyu as well. Apart from the issue of being fullblood (aka cross-bred) or purebred, another issue one contends with when ordering wagyu is the Grade and Beef Marbling Score (BMS), which both relates to the quality of the wagyu. The Grade (scored from 1-5 with 5 being best) is scored based on marbling, shine & colour, texure & grain and sheen & quality of fat, while the BMS is scored from 1-12 (with 12 being best) and this quality gauge is a key determining factor on how wagyu is priced.

A separate matrix is used to score USDA (US Department of Agriculture) beef, which is usually categorized as “prime”, “choice” or “select”, in order of decreasing quality. The “prime” grade would be the Japan equivalent of a minimum of a Grade 3 or Marbling Score of at least 5.

The Kaisen Moriawase ($36++) is catered for seafood lovers, where you get a good mix of King Crab, Giant Tiger Prawn, Hokkaido Scallop and Squid. Not a fan of King Crab but definitely took to the grilled prawns and hokkaido scallops which were fresh, evident from its sweet flavours and firm textures.

The Boneless Chicken Leg ($9/$12++ for 80g or 120g) is worth ordering as well, which was naturally tender and made even more flavourful with the marinade.

We also tried the Tsubo-Zuke Kurobuta ($19++ for 180g), which is a cut from the collar or neck of a pig. Unlike the beef we had earlier, the pork collar had been marinated for a more pronounced flavour. I wouldn’t have thought that anything would come close to the wagyu earlier but I think that this grilled kurobuta was definitely on par in terms of palatable-ness and tenderness.

We had the Ishiyaki Bibimbap ($15++) as a staple. Nothing extraordinary, just the usual rice mixed with minced Meat, vegetables  dried Seaweed and sesame. I would actually recommend skipping this and just opt for white rice to go with the grilled meats since you can find better Bibimbaps elsewhere.

We ended off the tasting with a simple scoop of Ice Cream ($5.80++). There’s 4 flavours to choose from such as Black Sesame, Matcha, Vanilla and Chestnut (in descending order of preference) and I would suggest sticking to either the Sesame or the Matcha.

What Ito Kacho specializes in, it does really well. Other peripherals might not shine but that’s easily overlooked as you distract yourself with the ooohs and ahhhs of the sizzling BBQ meats.

Special thanks to Ito Kacho for hosting the tasting and Hungrygowhere for coordinating the event.

Ito Kacho

333A Orchard Road, Mandarin Gallery #04-08

Tel: +65 6836 0111

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Shunjuu Izakaya – Defining Sumiyaki

26 09 2012

Shunjuu Izakaya is a sake dining bar specializing in sumiyaki, and carries over 40 types of sake. Having discovered it over summer thanks to one of my NUS law friends (who had been frequenting this place during her law internship at the expense of her associates, jealous max…), I decided to organize a friend’s birthday dinner here given that my virgin experience had been a positive one.

I have mentioned this before in one of my previous posts but I think now’s the perfect time for a refresher course on Grilled Japanese foods 101, whose terms we are so guilty of mixing up. Sumiyaki means “Charcoal Grilled” (Sumi meaning charcoal and Yaki meaning grilled). Kushiyaki means “Grilled on a Stick” (Kushi meaning Stick), in short Japanese Satay. Yakitori means “Grilled Chicken”, so it is more specific than Kushiyaki or Sumiyaki which can be used to refer to other types of grilled meats or seafood too. Robatayaki (meaning fire-side cooking) refers specifically to a method of cooking; hearthside grilling.

Hope this clarifies things a bit.

Shunjuu doesn’t seem to receive much publicity nowadays but back in the heyday, it used to be a major contender for dining awards, evident from its wall of fame. I guess extra publicity is redundant now anyways, since a full house during weekends is more or less assured for this sumiyaki heavyweight. So, reservations are recommended. The general consensus is that dinners here can work up to quite a fair bit but I believe that with strategic orders and abstinence from booze, dinners under $40 are still very possible, which in my view is reasonable given the quality of the food.

We took up a very friendly auntie staff’s suggestion and got the Tofu with Century Egg Sauce topped with Ebiko. It was a great opener to the meal and on hindsight, we should have gotten individual portions and not go through the pains of having to share something so tasty.  A similar one can be found at Fukuichi Japanese Dining at TripleOne Somerset, which happens to be one of their signatures.

For first timers to the restaurant, it’s really easy to get lost on what to order so I would suggest going for the prix fixe sets which comprise of an assortment of 5 grilled items, and further supplementing the meal with additional orders. There are 3 different sets available, of which Set A and B are meant for 1 pax, while Set C is meant for 2 pax.

For Set A ($20++), you get a stick of Beef Short Ribs, Asparagus rolled with Pork, Chicken Meat Ball, Golden Mushroom rolled with Beef, and Pork Belly.

The Golden Mushroom should have been rolled in beef but due to its unavailability, we got ours rolled in pork instead, which turned out great and is definitely one of the highlights from Set A. My other favourites from the set are the Chicken Meat Balls and the Beef Short Ribs. I usually scoff at meat balls but the ones here are clearly legit, hands down best chicken balls I have had the pleasure of eating.

from left: Chicken Meat Ball, Pork Belly, Asparagus rolled with Pork

Golden Mushroom rolled with Pork, Beef Short Ribs

For Set B ($28++), you get a stick of Grilled Ribeye, Scallop rolled with Pork, Rice Cake rolled with Pork, Chicken Wing, and Goose Liver. The star would be the Goose Liver, whose wobbly interior is encased by a smoky lightly charred surface. Less memorable items included the Scallop rolled in Pork. I could hardly discern the bland scallops whose flavour was overpowered by the savoury marinade from the pork. The Grilled Ribeye was also slightly too chewy for my liking and was not as tasty as the Beef Short Ribs from Set A.

from left: Chicken Wing, Scallop rolled with Pork

From left: Goose Liver, Ribeye, Rice Cake rolled with Pork

Apart from the grilled items, Shunjuu does their staples amazing well too. The Udon with Sesame Sauce ($7++) is served chilled which contrasts with spicy sesame sauce it is served in, causing a tingling sensation to the throat as one slurps it down. The spiciness of the sauce is of a right level which makes the dish super addictive.

The Garlic Fried Rice ($8++) is worth ordering too, as the pearly grains are evenly cooked with bits of aromatic crisp garlic bits garnishing the dish.

My favourite staple though is the hearty Fish Porridge ($12++), which is on a totally different league from what is available from hawker stalls. It has a naturally sweet flavour and creamy consistency, with very generous chunks of Salmon and Mackerel.

Instead of having desserts at Shunjuu, I would recommend heading to Laurent Bernard’s Chocolate Bar just opposite for their ice creams there chocolate tart.

Al Fresco area of Laurent Bernard’s with Shunjuu in the backdrop

Another enjoyable dinner at Shunjuu Izakaya cements Shunjuu’s status as one of the best sumiyaki restaurants around. Competition is stiff however, so next stop for sumiyaki will be Kazu at Cuppage Plaza, where we learn who defines sumiyaki best.

Shunjuu Izakaya

30 Robertson Quay, #01-15 Riverside View

Tel: +65 6887 3577





Rocks Urban Grill + Bar @ The Sail – No Smooth Sailing

6 12 2011

Rocks Urban Grill & Bar is the latest addition to the Emmanual Stroobant Group, which features reputable restaurants such as Saint Pierre, The French Kitchen and Picotin in Singapore. However sad to say, I find Rocks falling way short of its sister restaurants which is rather surprising since friend LZ did provide positive feedback on his last visit here.

Currently, there’s a festive 3-Course Set Lunch menu priced at $49++ and since my party was not provided with the usual weekly $39++ set lunch menu,  I’m guessing the festive set lunch menu might have replaced it for the time being. Personally, I was quite disappointed with the choices made available in the festive set, as they seem to feature cheaper and less popular alternatives compared to what is usually made available on the weekly set lunches, yet being priced at a premium. In the end, we decided to just go ala carte.

Served atop a hot pebble, the Sizzling Beef Maki ($18++) was more a feast for the eyes than the palate. The beef was slightly on the chewy side (though the extent of chewiness/rareness also depends on how long you leave it on the hot stone), and stuffed with what I believe to be Spinach, Mustard sauce and Parmesan cheese. Dipping it into the side of Soy (like how you would for sushi) is optional in my view because the soy simply overpowers everything, though eating the beef maki au naturale doesn’t result in a symphonic harmony of contrasting flavours either. In short, not recommended…

While it might seem aesthetically appealing, I suggest avoiding the Braised Lamb Shank with Rosemary, Thyme & Garlic ($33++). As far as I remember, this is definitely the most gamey and pungent lamb dish I have ever come across and I had quite a bit of trouble wolfing it down. This is definitely one of the areas Rocks should look into.

The meal started going uphill from here though I was already left with a bad taste in my mouth. While GR and CC liked the Grilled Baramundi ($30++), I thought it was merely pleasant. Enjoyable to eat, but not the best in town. The searing of the skin could have been made slightly crispier.

The Duck Confit ($33++) is done competently here. My only grouse is that the meat is slightly on the dry side but the duck skin and fat is simply marvelous and flavourful. Needless to say, duck confits are salty so a dessert is definitely in order after eating this.

We got the Baked Apple, Toffee Ice Cream with Double Cream & Brandy Snap ($14++) at GR’s request since he’s a huge apple fan and apple crumbles are his kryptonite. I think he quite enjoyed this but since I’m not much of a baked fruit kind of person, I thought the concept behind this dish is good and zingy with the combination of concentrated apple goodness and sour cream, but shall still prefer to stick to safer and more boring options such as cheesecake and chocolate fondants in future.

My favourite dish for the meal was the Cheesecake with Red Berry Sherbet & Apricot Chutney ($16++). I knew this had to be good seeing the specks of fragrant vanilla beans scattered throughout the cheesecake. The Sherbet is good too, and has a hint of yoghurty flavour despite sherbets supposedly having low dairy contents.

While I wasn’t impressed by their lunch, I concede that my negative experience could be partially because I failed to try what Rocks is known for, which is their Beef.

Bon Appetit!

Rocks Urban Grill + Bar

2 Marina Boulevard , #02-01/02 The Sail @ Marina Bay

Tel: +65 6438 4404








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